How do we find out who’s dropping litter – and why – for KEEP BRITAIN TIDY/COCA-COLA?


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Who’s littering non-alcoholic drinks, and what’s driving that particular littering behaviour?

In a project funded by the Coca Cola Corporation, Keep Britain Tidy asked The Hunting Dynasty (after a competitive pitch) to design a methodology specifically around non-alcoholic drinks. High street retail areas in Liverpool, England were identified as representative.


We designed a multimodal approach – on-site in Liverpool over two different weeks we:

And discovered that young ‘peer group focussed’ young people we responsive and needed to have an aspirational person tell them to stop.

1. On-site observations

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Two sites were discretely observed for six hours on three days each week for littering and disposal behaviour.

In terms of recording actions we designed the process thus:

• Defined litter according to LEQSE , including the range of non-alcoholic drinks in the Coca-Cola Company’s portfolio

• Defined the disposal placement (‘Channel/gutter’, ‘Paving joints’, etc) according LEQSE classification in order to synchronise data

• Defined the method of disposal (‘Drop: intentional’, ‘Flick/fling’, ‘Inch away’, etc) according to Keep America Beautiful study (2009) to keep us calibrated with previous work elsewhere and build on knowledge

• Looked at the broader situation, including method and contextual factors such as speed of walking, what else was being held if anything at the time of littering, with friends or alone, etc

• We designed a footfall monitoring process to check volume of visitors, and a random person check to make sure we recorded the behaviour of all visitors to the sites including (potentially) those that didn’t bin or litter

2. On-site experimentation

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There are three things that (broadly) affect littering behaviour (Shwartz, 2009):
1. The number of bins
2. The cleanliness of the site
3. The messaging in the area

We experimented with the first two (extra bins and extra cleaning) by splitting the observation across two different weeks, and having extra bins installed and extra cleaning performed between the two.

The effect of this was to reduce littering by about 10% overall (see trend line, below). That’s a £100m reduction of the £1B a year UK litter problem.

However, there was no change in non-alcoholic drinks littering, so we can discount affordance and beautification as useful for solving the non-alcoholic drinks challenge, and recognise that messaging (the third factor) may be the way to change behaviour.

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3. On-site intercepts

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Stop-in-the-street interview questions were written as a combination of factual information, estimated information, and Personal Norms Against Littering questions (Cialdini et al., 1991) in deliver a psychological component.

The Personal Norms Against Littering questions are a measure of a person’s strength (or weakness) of obligation to find a bin – especially when there are obstacles to doing so.

Knowledge of this helps shape possible anti-littering interventions, as those with weaker personal obligations rarely feel guilty about their littering (Schwartz, 2009), so messages or interventions focussing on guilt will not work.

Also, a high proportion of people admitted littering non-alcoholic drinks, and all of them cited ‘laziness’ as the reason. And in recognition of this, their ‘Personal Norms Against Littering’ measure was weaker than average.

4. Pre-arranged group interviews

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Designed and run along British Psychological Society guides looking for deep-seated instinctive responses.

Surprisingly, when asked ‘what is littered?’ non-alcoholic drinks was the most frequent response, way in excess of actually litter rates; more ‘beacons of litter’.

When discussing bin design, there was a frequent verbal use of ‘drop’ litter and hand miming ‘dropping’ litter; this contrast with the ‘posting’ action needed for most bins and indicates bin design itself might help reduce littering (more likely overall rather than non-alcoholic drinks specifically).


When graphed, it’s obvious there’s something driving the under 25s to litter more than bin. And this desire weakens with age; it is a psychographic rather than a demographic.

It’s not opportunity to litter, as older age groups drink non-alcoholic litter (and bin it). It is likely to be a peer-group led ‘celebrity-consumer’ lifestyle to which they wish to signal they belong by littering – the littering itself is an artefact of ‘showing they belong’, not the action itself.
Characteristics of young people in these social groups are (amongst others):
  • Limited attention
  • Peer led (strongly)
  • High extroversion scores (which plays to ostentatious flick and fling littering on obvious landing sites such as (observed) footways and street furniture)
  • Laziness (a diet of instantaneous success from messaging e.g. Pop Idol, X Factor, Big Brother (approx.. 2000-present))
  • Selfish, perhaps untouchably so, e.g. celebrities misbehave and nothing happens to them (perhaps just more attention) – this talks to behavior which is one can imitate and express/advertise one’s own credibility and belonging

Expressing these characteristics is important because the public element of any action affects our reputation (Milinski, Semmann, Krambeck) . With this backdrop of ‘the world’ of a young non-alcoholic drinks consumer being the small peer friendship group, littering non-alcoholic drinks can be a message that enhances reputation. Such as:
  • I drink a cool brand
  • I’m cool and don’t care
  • I can’t be bothered to throw it in the bin as I expect people to cater to me
  • I’m bigger than the environment or community
  • Overtly dropping items such as non-alcoholic drinks gives me a buzz that satisfies my extraversion – a personality satisfaction ‘hit’

They are motivated by a group identity (rather than negatives of guilt and shame).


Executing intervention collateral or products is not part of the brief. However, a messaging component can be part of an intervention, such as in the Don’t Mess With Texas’ campaign beginning in the 1980s. For more read an excerpt from Oliver’s book ‘Inspiring Sustainable Behaviour’ here, or this blog post, however, in short, Texan youth continued littering on highways despite $1000 fines – fines that stopped every other age group from littering. The young men’s (was mostly men) distain for the law was matched only by their love of Texas’ sporting and country music heroes; these were the people the youth aspired to be. And it was these people shown on TV pushing rubbish in a bin and employing the viewer ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ that saw roadside litter by the young men down by 70% over five years.


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